Surviving Picasso Review

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A look at Picasso's life through the story of his relationship with the only one of his women that didn't end up insane, Francoise.


Merchant Ivory continue their meetings with famous men in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's screenplay, based on Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington's nasty biography of this century's most important artist, Pablo Picasso. As you might expect, it's pretty as a picture although the emotional content deals with the ugly aspect of genius.

The film opens in 1943 when Picasso (Hopkins) was in his 60s and centres on his decade-long liaison with aspiring artist Francois (McElhone), through her eyes. In the course of their relationship she goes from smitten kitten and acolyte to subjugated concubine to defiant, independent woman - though quite how is as mystifying as the artistic process. This interlude was selected, apparently, because Picasso's other partners had a tendency to go bananas. Francois alone walked out on Pablo with head high and marbles intact - hence the title. Other of his women wander in and out, notably Julianne Moore as Man Ray model Dora Mar, who slumps in cafes with bandaged wrists muttering "Without him there is nothing...".

This makes for a contentious outlook. Hopkins, shaven-headed and wearing brown contact lenses but wisely eschewing any silly accents, is a charismatic presence and even persuades us - in the rare moments when the artist is engaged in things artistic - that he is a creative genius. He is limited, though, by the shallow, unsympathetic perspective that stresses a man's egomania and bad behaviour over his achievements. McElhone's Francoise is lovely and looks like an artists' model, but she doesn't register much passion for the manipulative old bastard, so her subsequent pain at his hands is little felt, either.

It's visually, appropriately enough, that the film really scores. And the period dressing is fastidious - so much so that this reviewer became much more riveted by Francoise's fabulous 50s wardrobe than her canvas daubing or her empowerment.

A beautiful film in every way, from cinematography to wardrobe.